John Heard: interrogate your conscience

25 Mar 2009

By The Record

The world is broken, and we are not meant to fix it, because we are unable to.

John Heard

That is the curious lot of humanity. It marks out our limitations. No matter how hard we strive, no matter our intentions, “the good we choose and mean to do // Prospers if He wills it to // And if not, then it fails”.
The poetry is James MacAuley’s, of course, from his beautiful Retreat, and the lines were passed to B A Santamaria at a moment of particular turmoil, but the lesson is available to all of us.
We have no guarantee that what we do, simply because we want to do it, or because we think we ought to do it, or because we have been told by reliable authority simply to do it – we have no promise that this will be enough.
Catholics must submit everything to God for approval, and as we cannot (except via authentic revelation) know His mind in advance (the idea itself is heresy), and we cannot always assign His favour to past activity (that too can be madness); we must leave our best at His feet.
We must surrender. That is the lesson of Lent.
That does not mean, of course, that we are not responsible for our failures, and it does not mean that we can have no part in our victories. Christians are not crude determinists. Rather, we know that man alone is a pitiable thing, and his triumphs are modest. Set alongside the majesty of the One, one is nothing – and we are only made something by the inexpressibly generous love of God. Nothing we do, we know, if we are conformed to the Cross, is done entirely according to our genius; rather it is of the grace of God.
Same sex attracted Catholics, and Christians generally, need to keep this in mind, then, when claiming this or that as a Lenten success or failure. I need to keep it in mind.
Certainly, when contemplating sin, literally a “turning away” from God, we do well to remember God’s majesty. When we suffer, and fail, we must turn again to Him.
Because, of course, while the truth of God’s power should encourage us to cultivate a healthy fear of Him, we should not forget that He always has the means, the power, to pull us out of darkness.
For the Church teaches us that God’s mercy is greater than our sin. He is mightier, indeed, brighter and more loving than all the sin of every man on earth.
When we hesitate before the confessional – and same sex attracted men hesitate, I hesitate, Catholics in great numbers hesitate – when we stall and skulk, we must remember His inexhaustible light.
We must allow it to track through our lives, to lick about the filthy edges, and we must stand still, calm and docile, as it wars against our secret shame.
None of this should be abstract, either.
Catholics, especially in Lent and Holy Week, come right up against the mystery of Christ’s Passion.
We cannot, therefore, ignore the reality, the bloody mess of sin, and the lengths that God has gone to to wipe it all away.
The Stations of the Cross, the Passion narrative, these demonstrate that Israel’s One, Who dwells in “unapproachable light” has, by the Incarnation and the Cross, irrevocably bound Himself, in the most immediate way, to our human lot.
Christ suffers with us.
That should give us great hope, and – enduring these dying days of the Lenten discipline – lend us strength.
For same sex attracted Catholics, struggling to carry our own particular crosses, the fact of Christ’s suffering changes everything. On Laetare Sunday, when the Church puts on rose vestments, indeed, all Catholics get a sense of imminent joy.
In the bright flare of Easter night, we will learn again that the meaning of holy suffering is always undying joy.
Whatever we give up for Him makes us better men. It makes us more like Him, Who is goodness and beauty and truth.
Now, however, in the deep days of sorrow, we must endure. The world is broken, and we are not meant to fix it, because we are unable to. We cannot even fix ourselves.
Same sex attracted men must endure, and we must hope. If we have fallen, we must pick ourselves up. I must pick myself up. We must come, same sex attracted or otherwise, you and me, to the confessional. We must interrogate our consciences, and tell of our failures.
We can do this because He makes all things new (Revelation 21:5), even sorrowful, pitiable creatures, even human beings, even you – and broken down, useless, miserable me.
John Heard is an Australian writer.